By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I’ve been meaning to get to this film for awhile, but for some reason, I rarely found myself in the mood to watch a subtitled Norwegian drama about a suicidal drug addict.
Nope, still too chipper
Well, my loss, as this film would have ranked among my favorites of 2012. It has a very basic premise- it follows a day in the life of a drug addict (Anders Danielsen Lie) who gets a furlough from his rehabilitation center to go to Oslo for a job interview and see his sister.
This has been a year of catching up on rising non-English directorial talents, and you can add Joachim Trier to Xavier Dolan and Joshua Oppenheimer to the list of filmmakers whose future projects I’ll be eagerly anticipating. At first, the film looks like every other sun-kissed, hand-held digital indie film crowding the market these days (digital cameras really have raised the bar on shooting cheap, gorgeous films). However, as the film progresses, Trier’s masterfully ability to construct wordless sequences (nicely complemented by his excellent soundtrack choices) becomes more apparent.
He also has a uniformly excellent cast to work with. Lie’s performance is almost bizarrely uncharismatic, but perfectly fitted to the direction the story goes. However, my favorite portrayal was the dickish, but loving performance of Hans Olav Brenner, playing Anders’s friend Thomas. He’s the perfect audience stand-in, asking the questions we all have about a kid who appears to have given up, even though his life is pretty good in comparison to the other poor addicts at his facility. All of the characters are similarly three-dimensional, even in limited screentime, and the excellent characterization and way the film uses rambling conversations to reveal it through the first act resembles a Before Sunrise for the suicidal.
Sounds depressing, but still maybe not as depressing as the latest installment in the series.
The film becomes something else, though, as Anders drifts away from his former friends and family and towards the end of the film. The turning point is a coffeehouse sequence in which he eavesdrop on the people around him in a coffee shop, showing some remaining desire for connection, while at the same time emphasizing his self-imposed isolation. It’s one of the few finest scenes I’ve watched this year, and yet is topped by Oslo’s masterful, dialogue-free and incredibly tense final act. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen, and that’s saying something for a consummate multi-tasker who often can’t help himself.
A few things in the film didn’t ring quite true. Some of the dialogue is almost over-intellectual at times, particularly the voiceovers, especially when you consider that he’s talking to a support group of recovering addicts that Anders himself calls not terribly smart. So, was he just delivering monologues he knew most wouldn’t understand? Also, what kind of care facility lets you walk in the door sopping wet and lets you go ahead and leave the next day, not even asking any questions about it?
Nah, he’ll be fine
At times, Oslo, August 31st is transcendent. When director Joachim Trier learns to stretch this across a complete feature, watch out. Regardless, this movie is very, very good.
Take a Drink: whenever Anders calls his ex
Take a Drink: every time he gets overwhelmed and runs away
Take a Drink: whenever he makes lifeless eye contact with someone
Do a Shot: whenever he attempts suicide